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25 May, 2009 06:45

Wait is over as Moscow prepares for 3G

Russians have purchased around 6 million mobile phones with 3rd-generation technology support. But, one of the country's largest markets is still waiting for the service to be switched on.

3G is available in 77 cities in Russia and 29 regions but, surprisingly, not in Moscow.

After 2 years of seeking licenses to bring high-speed data transmission to the Russian capital, Mikhail Shamolin, President, MTS mobile operators are preparing for the launch.

“We, in fact, have got permission to place base stations in the metro and in buildings. The documents which would allow us to switch those base stations on are in the approval process and we expect them to come out within the next to to three weeks.

The core of our strategy for the next coming years is going to be data. Data usage and mobile Internet. Overall, we predict a switch from voice to data over the next coming years and we have to be prepared for that.”

In 2008, Russia's "Big 3" – MTS, Vimpelcom, and MegaFon – spent between $250 and $300 million dollars investing in 3G networks – accounting for 12.5% of their overall network investment.

Because 3G will be available only indoors, operators are still hoping to secure permission from the military for outdoor use. They're ready to provide a full 3G network as early as next year.

Then there's the task of encouraging subscribers to make the most of 3G – sending photographs and trawling the Internet. Maksim Savvatin, Analyst, IKS Consulting says the market analysis and consumers need to become more sophisticated in their usage.

“Operators count general traffic – not broken down to 2G or 3G. Basically a 3G subscriber can be anyone who has a working terminal that supports the technology. However a lot of our users don't even think about the possibility of using it.”

Russians are big texters but with an average monthly of less than 15 dollars a month – the mobile operators have a challenge ahead of them.